Gregory Heidenblut, O.S.A.
St. Augustine High School
San Diego, California
Amos 6:1, 4-7
Psalm 146:7, 8-10
1 Tim 6:11-16
This past week I’ve just finished writing an article on the problems facing the board of directors of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, you will recall, is a nonprofit organization that has been around for over 100-years with the mission of protecting the environment from harm. Since the late 1990’s there have been many attempts at a hostile takeover of the board by antiimmigration groups. They are the ones who would like to see the Sierra Club embrace an antiimmigration agenda as part of the club’s environmental mission.
So what does the Sierra Club or anti-immigration enthusiasts have to do with the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time? On the surface, nothing, but underneath, the heart of today’s readings.
Justice, both socially and spiritually, is at the heart of today’s readings.
Social justice is about public interest groups who fail to see the “unseen” the “forgotten” in society, the ones who are seriously affected by such crusades. It’s about the men, women and children who only want a better life in a world that God has given to all of us, just not a select few. The readings are also about spiritual justice where parallel worlds exists side-by-side and those of affluence fail to see or touch the needy within arm’s length.
In the first reading from the Hebrew Scriptures hear Amos. Amos was the prophet of social justice. God called him to speak to the rich of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The country was about to be destroyed by the Assyrians but the wealthy were unconcerned. Their lifestyle was to be the undoing of the country. Amos warned that they would be the first taken into captivity because of their total disregard for the plight of the poor.
Luke tells us this is precisely the sin of the rich man in the Gospel. In the parallel world the rich man is insulated by a lavish lifestyle making him oblivious to the poor man Lazarus sitting at his gate. The rich man was in his own little world and didn’t bother to look beyond his extravagant and pampered life. This parable is so typical of Luke warning us about the responsibility of wealth. Some of the harshest words in Sacred Scripture are directed at the uncaring rich.
The rich man never entered the world of poor Lazarus. He never accepted Lazarus as a brother who shared a common humanity. The rich man was indifferent and isolated from the cares of the poor. Riches can make a person self-occupied and blinded to the needs of others.
Father Flor McCarthy, SDB, says the rich man didn’t do anything wrong. But why did he end up in “the torment of Hades?” He was not condemned because he was rich, but because he failed to show compassion to the poor man. The rich man lived only for himself.
God’s word today is a message we need to take to heart. We need to remember Lazarus, the rich man and the warning of Amos to a people ambivalent to the poor. We need to look beneath the surface of our political and social activism and see whether there are the “unseen” and “forgotten” sisters and brothers who will be affected by our enthusiasm or lack of it.
Daily we encounter the parallel world of the poor and forgotten. Many times we, like the rich man in Luke’s gospel, are oblivious to the needy in our lives. We may see a homeless person sitting on the corner, day in and day out, never asking for assistance. And daily we just walk on by without so much as a “hello.” Mrs. Johnson lives two doors down in 4A. She lost her husband about a year ago and we’ve still failed to call on her. In these examples, we, like the rich man, didn’t do anything wrong. The rich man didn’t go out of his way to hurt Lazarus or add to his misery. He was just indifferent and failed to show compassion. This was his great sin.
Today the Lord gives us the opportunity to cross from our side of privilege and comfort to the undesirable side where poverty and hunger, loneliness and despair is the norm. Christ is asking us today to make that parallel world part of our own.